Dear Freshman,

In case you haven’t noticed yet, college goes by fast. Today you’re a freshman, but one day you will wake up a senior and wonder how you got there so quickly. The days might move slow – especially if you are in the middle of midterms or a bout of homesickness – but trust me, the years go fast.

These four years are truly unique. This phase of life is wonderful, full of fun and independence and freedom. But it’s also hard; sometimes it feels tedious or stagnant or painful. It’s been both the most fun and the most challenging time I have ever experienced.

Having woken up a senior for the last four weeks, I have been reflecting on how I actually did get here, and on what college has taught me. Here are the pieces of senior wisdom I have come up with.

Number One: Be aware that every quarter (or semester) is totally different from the last. There are new classes, new routines, new sources of fun, new friends, new stresses, new challenges, and new lessons. It’s hard to readjust so often, but once you are aware that no quarter is ever the same, it keeps life interesting.

Number Two: Make an effort to learn about yourself. College is supposed to give you the skills that you need to go into the workforce; what I didn’t realize is that college actually prepares you to go into life. You learn how to exist in the world as a better, more developed human. The most valuable things that I have learned here have been about who I am and how I interact with the world. So push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Work on growing as an individual just as much as you work on studying (or partying).

Number Three: If you ever start to believe that you are done learning, you are almost certainly wrong. Prepare for life to show you just how much more room for growth you have.

Number Four: Embrace vulnerability. Let your teachers, friends, and peers get to know you (and get to know them too). Let them in on who you are, what you feel, and what you believe. Let people be a part of your journey; listen to and learn from them.

Number Five: Challenge yourself. Challenge who you are, what you believe, and what you are taught. Don’t abandon, but challenge. Learn to think critically about the things that you or society in general have accepted as True. Don’t be afraid to change your perspective.

Number Six: Enjoy the ride. College is fun, but some days are going to suck. You’re probably in for a few meltdowns, maybe some bad hangovers, and possibly a couple of all nighters. But it’s a crazy and beautiful journey, so find the joy in as much of it as you can.

When I look back on my time in college (though I’m not quite finished yet), I see the ways that it has changed and shaped me. I see the growth I have experienced, and the growth that I still have yet to experience. And I feel very grateful. I hope that in four years, you feel grateful too.

Sincerely,

Two Quarters Left

“What do you want to do with your life?”

As a senior in high school, I remember getting tired of answering questions related to college. It seemed as though college was the only topic of conversation available to me and the rest of the world. But by March of that year, I had concrete answers to all of these questions. I had picked a school that I loved and was confident in my decision.

What I realize now, as a junior at Cal Poly, is that questions related to college were easy. They had concrete answers. The questions people ask about my future now are not so straightforward. The most common questions that I have to answer are: “What is your major?” and “What do you want to do after college?” I can easily answer that my major is psychology, but then I have to explain that I do not want to be a psychologist or a researcher – the most common careers for a psychology major. In fact, I have a list of things that I do not want to do, but no clue as to what I do want.

I often feel ashamed that I have no answer in regard to what I want to do with my life. I have spent my whole life in school, working as hard as I can, but with no real end goal in sight. Elementary school was preparation for middle school, which was preparation for high school, which was primarily meant to get me to college. Yet now, I am in college, learning about a subject that I find both fascinating and applicable to my life, but I don’t have a concrete next step that I am actively working towards. The next step is a career. A.k.a. a giant question mark. All of my life I was on a linear path with clear goals, but now it feels like I am stumbling about in the dark, enjoying college – the last concrete goal I had – but scared to death of what comes next.

Given that shame and fear tend to be the feelings I associate with questions related to my future, I don’t particularly enjoy explaining my situation to others. However, every now and again, I receive little pieces of wisdom and reassurance from adults who have been in my position of uncertainty, and have come out the other side into a career they love. In the last couple of months, I have received so many pieces of wisdom that I decided to bring them all together here.

The inspiration for this post came from a man named Mark, who works as the Ambassador of Joy at a Kitchen and Bath company called Pirch. I explained to him that while I am passionate about writing and studying psychology, I am lost as to the type of career that I want. He shared with me his story of how he left his job as an investment banker to become a snowboard instructor, and then found his way into a career working to design company culture. As a result, he is now in a job he loves and is passionate about. I was inspired by Mark’s story because he took a bold move to seek joy and passion in his job, rather than settle for a job that was simply well paid. He took a risk in taking time off to have some fun and figure out who he was and what he wanted. And I loved what he had to say to me in regard to my own future.

He told me that you can’t go wrong when you come out of college as long as you go somewhere to develop a skill, find a mentor to learn from, and get pushed out of your comfort zone in some way. He said that it is important to develop your skills and talents because those always stay with you, and learning who you are is vital. He reassured me that it’s okay that my answer to “what do you want to do with your life?” is “I don’t know and I shouldn’t have to.”

Already feeling less ashamed of my question mark future, I received another piece of wisdom from my advisor at school. He reminded me that the reason this whole process of figuring out jobs and a career is so scary is because it is unknown. He said that scary things are scary because we don’t know what to expect. This seems like a fairly obvious thing to say, but to me it was very profound. It was like he was giving me permission to be afraid of the unknown, but also reminding me that it won’t be scary forever.

The final piece of wisdom I received came at the end of last quarter as I was chatting with one of my professors. She told me that she didn’t find her passion until she was thirty, and that it’s okay not to have it all figured out. But then, she reminded me to enjoy the process of figuring it out. She said that reaching goals is often oddly unsettling and unsatisfying; it’s the process of getting there that is truly exciting. She reminded me that once you reach a goal, you are just going to set a new one. She said that goals are good and necessary, but we often forget to enjoy the process of achieving them.

Last quarter, I was discouraged and frustrated with school and with my future. I wanted to fast forward to having everything all figured out. But this quarter, my goal is to take the wisdom others have given me, and apply it to exactly where I am right now. I am going to focus on developing my skills and talents, continuing to figure out who I am and what I love, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I am going to try to be okay with not knowing what to expect in the future, and actually try to be excited about the possibilities rather than fear the uncertainty. And most of all, I am going to try to enjoy the ride. I can wish that I had everything all figured out, but the more I grow up, the more I realize that no one has it all figured out. So instead of wishing I knew what exactly my future holds, I’m going to try to enjoy the process of getting there.

Biting the Bullet

This week, I had to tackle an assignment for a course that I have been dreading for two years. It forced me to put my psychology major into practice in a situation that demands a huge amount of sensitivity and responsibility. The assignment was scary because it involved real life variables, not just bubbling in the right answer on a scantron. I had to be ready to think on my toes and respond to real challenges. This particular assignment had been looming over me and stressing me out since the quarter started, and it felt like a weight on my shoulders. I was nervous to complete it, but the task required that I bury my nerves and act as calm and natural as possible.

Since I was feeling more panicky than calm, I needed to find a way to chill out and face my fear with confidence. So before I completed the assignment, I decided to sit down and remind myself of all of the things – particularly recently – that I have done that I never would have dreamed I had the strength to do.

As I made this list, I realized that in the past couple of years, I have overcome – or at least faced – a lot of my biggest fears, and surprised myself by handling them much better than I had anticipated. The list ranges from going to college and moving away from my family, to getting blood tests and going to doctor’s appointments; from learning to trust, to starting an internship. I still find all of the things listed above to be scary, but that fear doesn’t stop me from doing them.

When I was a little kid, I assumed that adults weren’t afraid of things. I thought that because grown ups handled things that seemed scary, they must not be afraid of them. But what I have realized as I have begun to enter the adult world is that you don’t grow out of fear. Things continue to be daunting and scary no matter how old you are. There is no magic age where fear goes away. Maybe the things that you are afraid of change, but fear itself remains. I think the reason that I thought adults must not be afraid of things is that I never saw a grown up throw a tantrum or freak out when they didn’t want to do something; they always seemed so stoic.

When I was little and something scared me, I was the opposite of stoic. I could either run to my mom, crying about it, or stomp my feet and scream “I can’t do it!” As I got older, those strategies stopped being feasible options. Sometimes they’re tempting, but they are obviously not strategies I use anymore. The underlying difference between my behavior then and now is that when I was a kid, I really thought that because I was terrified of something or because I didn’t want to do it, that actually meant that I couldn’t. I firmly believed what I was saying: “I can’t do this.” Now when something scares me, I can hear the child within me chanting “I can’t,” but I also know that I am going to have to find the strength somehow. “I can’t” isn’t really an option. I know I have to bite the bullet and deal with it. There’s a grown up voice that responds to the kid saying “I can’t” with “Well, too bad because you have to.” And somehow, instead of discovering that “I can’t,” overtime I have learned that “I can do this,” whatever “this” may be.

Realizing that I am capable of facing things that terrify me has been one of the most rewarding parts of growing up.

So as I sat there before my assignment, I felt more confident in knowing that – like all the other things I have been afraid to do – I could get through it. It didn’t go perfectly, but it was much better than I had expected. And it gave me one more thing to add to the list of scary things that I have faced head on.

The class for which I had to complete the big, daunting assignment happens to have a focus on “positive psychology,” which focuses on human strengths and resilience. This theory acknowledges that people have fears, pain, and issues, but it emphasizes that we all have within us the strength to get through them. We might need some support, but ultimately we have the ability to overcome these obstacles. And I feel like that is the perfect way to describe what I was feeling as I wrote down all of the fears I have faced in the past few years. I have needed support from people in my life along the way, but ultimately I have discovered that I have the strength in myself to overcome my fears.

Thoughts for the Week

This week, I had to write my own eulogy for my public speaking class.  Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, and probably the weirdest assignment I’ve had in college.  I am not a fan of public speaking as it is, so giving my own (fake) eulogy combined two of my least favorite things, and the two things people fear more than anything else: public speaking and death.  Perfect.

I really hated this assignment, but after I gave my speech I felt this weird sense of accomplishment.  It’s possible that I was just really relieved to have that damn, anxiety-provoking assignment out of the way.  But I think it was more than that.  Even though I whined a lot about this assignment and didn’t sleep well at all the night before, I think it actually taught me something.

Listening to a bunch of nineteen year olds commemorate their lives as if they were no longer in them was super depressing, but somehow somewhat uplifting too.  Everybody made a point of saying that they didn’t want their life to be mourned, but celebrated.  We were supposed to praise ourselves in this speech, and look at the positive things about our lives.

It made me realize that when people look back at their lives from a eulogy-type standpoint, they don’t focus on the negatives.  They don’t focus on the valleys.  They don’t focus on the crap.

They look at everything that was beautiful about their life.

They look at the core of who they were.  They look at relationships.  Everybody’s speech focused a lot on their relationships with the people they loved the most: their family and friends.

They look at their strengths.  For this speech, we weren’t allowed to talk about our insecurities or out faults.  We had to look at the positive things about ourselves.  It’s somewhat uncomfortable to praise yourself.  It feels very unnatural.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the bad days and the negatives in life.  If that is all you are focusing on, there are lots of things that you can let piss you off and take over.  But when you get down to it, when you have to look back at your life and pretend it’s over, you don’t look at that stuff.  Or if you do, you look at how it made you stronger.

This quarter has had a lot of ups and downs for me, nothing major really to be down about, but sometimes life is just like that.  Up and down.  I’ve been roller coaster riding between really happy and really sad.  And it’s easy to let the downhill spiral farther and farther until I decide to do something to turn it back around.

For example, as I started writing this, I was pretty happy.  And then a few hours later I found myself feeling sad and lonely again.

But then I started writing this post again, feeling fairly hypocritical since I wasn’t exactly in a very positive mood, and I started to realize something.

Instead of looking back at my day and focusing on the times I felt crappy, I should focus on all the good things.  As if I were writing a eulogy for the day.  No focusing on the negatives, just be grateful for and celebrate the positives.

Like I made pancakes at 10 p.m.  Just because I can.

And when I looked out my window this evening, I saw a beautiful sunset behind Bishop’s Peak.

And I learned how to cook chicken without setting off the smoke alarm, overcooking the chicken, or making our entire house smell like a burning KFC.

I know none of that sounds particularly exciting, but there are tons of things in life to be grateful for, from the bigger things like the wonderful people in my life to the little things like pancakes at night.

It shouldn’t take writing a eulogy to focus on the good things in life.

Last year, I had a fantastic English teacher who taught me something really important.  She said that at the end of a paper, you don’t have to try to sound like you have it all figured out.  Because usually you don’t.

I definitely don’t.

But I know that the best way to be happy is be grateful.  So, without pretending that I died, I want to be able to ignore all the crap that is so easy to focus on and celebrate the goodness in life.

Words to Live By

Lately, I’ve been pretty good at finding relatively productive ways of putting off doing my homework.  Living in my first apartment, I have found that I actually like cleaning and taking care of my new home.  And, when I decide to do the dishes or vacuum or clean the bathroom instead of reading 60 pages in textbooks, I don’t feel too bad about it.  But eventually I run out of excuses to productively procrastinate and inevitably wind up on Facebook.

Typically, Facebook is a massive waste of time, but today I found myself inspired and fulfilled by something I came across.  I am Facebook friends with this guy called Paul “The Ripples Guy.”  He is a motivational speaker who comes to Cal Poly every Fall to welcome the new freshman and give them some words of wisdom to enter their first year of college with.  He is known as “The Ripples Guy” because he does this thing where he sends out emails with inspirational tidbits that are meant to have a ripple effect on their readers’ lives.  He also has a Facebook page that serves a similar purpose.

So today, mid procrastination, I came across this article that he posted a few days ago.  I was super intrigued because the title of the article was “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps.”  If you know me well, you can probably guess this is not the sort of article I would usually click on, but this definitely did not sound like a “ripples” sort of article to post, so I decided to check it out.  What I thought was going to be a joke ended up being this incredibly simple, yet insightful article with eight ways to be truly happier.  Each piece of advice was so simple and all of them were things that I have thought about or been aware of, but tend to lose sight of too often.  Mostly because following these instructions for happiness is usually easier said than done.

Either way, this article was a fantastic reminder for me as to how I want to live and behave and think.  And I figured it was too good not to share with more people.  So enjoy this great advice that has nothing to do with better abs, better sex, or ruling the world.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-bartolotta/happiness-tips_b_3956114.html